I’m a guy who likes a well-turned aside, the parenthetical phrase. (Admit it—you find the curves on a pair of parentheses sexy too.) One fun example is the elocution that made Jimmy Stewart famous. Many of his movies display his signature mannerism, where another character has declared something outrageous or unanticipated, and Jimmy will be in a kind of reverie where he’ll say something like, “Oh, well, uh, yeess, I suppose that’s so …” then a “What! What did you say?” And the reversal from his mumbles to his mania is priceless.
There’s something so charming about the head-scratching Stewart mumbling and stuttering his asides to the central conversation. But the best kind of sidelong declarations are the kind found in any of Woody Allen’s movies where he is a character. He’ll be in a big-picture situation that is neutral or slightly loaded, but Woody interprets it with an end-of-the-world punchline, often a lesson in comedic writing (and thinking).
Woody, the Reluctant Pitch Artist
Woody’s the antithesis of the marketing copywriter, but it’s fun to look at some of his stuff in a copywriting light:
• Timing the customer funnel. (Know when your buyer is ready. Or nudge them along.)
Allen: “What are you doing Saturday night?” Davila: “Committing suicide.” Allen: “What about Friday night?”
• If you can’t get a customer testimonial, the next best thing is to write one yourself.
“You can’t control life. It doesn’t wind up perfectly. Only art you can control. Art and masturbation. Two areas in which I am an absolute expert.”
• Direct, plain-spoken words on personal challenges draw customer empathy. And who doesn’t like to complain about being ripped off?
“I am plagued by doubts. What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In which case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”
• Features and benefits and imparting a sense of urgency
“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.”
• Know your audience demographics (and don’t be afraid to drop names)
“I worked with Freud in Vienna. We broke over the concept of penis envy. Freud felt that it should be limited to women.”
• Statistics can sell the story:
“There are two types of people in this world, good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.”
• Communicating the “What’s In It For Me” angle:
“Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go it’s pretty damn good.”
OK, admittedly Woody is weak on calls to action, fuzzy on the features/benefits dance, and rather than solving a problem, he often introduces one. And a little bit of self-loathing can go a long way, but a lot, hmmm. But I do wish he’d take a shot at it—today’s beer commercials are sorely lacking in that winning parenthetical (and existential) touch.